Do MSW rankings matter?
July 8, 2012 7:24 PM   Subscribe

Do the rankings of the school matter when getting your MSW?

I'm applying this winter for fall 2013 and am trying to decide if I need to take the GRE this summer/fall.

Many upper-ranked schools require it, but if I decide to stick with lower-ranked (and potentially cheaper) schools because rankings don't matter as long as the school is accredited, I don't need to stress about the GRE and can focus on volunteering and improving my application in other ways. My undergrad GPA was a 3.2 and my BA is in Political Science.

If it matters, I'll be studying child and family welfare, possibly in the Title IV-E program if I can get in. I currently work in an admin position at my state child welfare agency, so I do already know what I'm getting into there. Are there any schools (preferably in the northeast) that are especially good for this if rankings *do* matter?
posted by youcancallmeal to Education (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
How do you quantify 'mattering'? I went to a well ranked program but it didn't 'matter' because it didn't help me to build a professional network in the city I moved to afterward, which matters way more for finding work. But if you expect to remain in the same organization and are just looking for a bump in salary due to higher credentials, I would say it wouldn't much matter where you go. But going to school in the same area where you plan to work after school is of serious value, regardless of school rank.
It also depends on your chosen concentration-I would look into those specific departments of various schools, because yes, sometimes better ranked schools get better professors, but that is by no means true in all cases. If you just want the degree and certification, then I don't think rank matters. If you want a higher quality of education, it might matter more only in the quality of course selection and/or professors. You just need to work out what's most important for you and go from there.
posted by greta simone at 7:42 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I mean, in the case of finding a job after graduation. I'm not planning on staying in the same state that I currently work in, but if it's important, I'll work in the place that I go to school. (Hence why I care about the school being in the northeast.)
posted by youcancallmeal at 7:45 PM on July 8, 2012

any reputable ranking should have a section on methodology. you should look at that. if the ranking is based on the things you care about then you should take the ranking seriously, if not, don't worry about ranking.

for example, if a big ranking criteria is publications, but you're more interested in practical work, then maybe the rankings shouldn't matter to you much. on the other hand, if the rankings put a lot of weight on the number of graduates who get a job in the field then take them seriously.
posted by cupcake1337 at 8:46 PM on July 8, 2012

Better than rankings would be getting your hands on some employment statistics from these programs. How many of last year's graduates are working in their chosen field? How about graduates from the year before? What sorts of job titles do they have?

But even better than that — since basically every grad program in the world lies like hell about their job placement record — would be to talk to some actual employed people in your field and ask their advice. Do some informational interviews with people who hire for the sort of job you want, and ask what programs they'd recommend. If there's anyone in your social network who recently graduated from this sort of program, talk to them and ask whether they'd recommend their program or not. Stuff like that.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:25 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Earning an MSW degree in the state in which you plan on working can eliminate some licensure/certification BS. Also, local government and nonprofit organizations are more likely to be familiar with your university, and you may even have internship opportunities at the agencies where you'll be seeking employment. These factors all probably count for more than the prestige of any particular program. Off the top of my head, the only place where your program's ranking may matter is in academia (i.e. if you plan on pursuing fellowships or faculty positions).
posted by GnomeChompsky at 12:03 AM on July 9, 2012

I am reinterpreting your question: Is a degree from Simmons (a top flight school for Social Work) worth it?

Yes, at the end of your MSW you will make $54,000 (top flight school) a year instead of $50,000 (less than top flight school) assuming that you land your dream job at a non-proffit. With the extra 4 grand a year, you may be able to purchase a used Toyota Turcell instead of a used Geo Tracker.

My ex-wife did her MSW at Simmons (and eventually a LICSW with DBT and so on and so forth). She worked for the same company through school and she was promoted upon completion of her degree. If she had been looking to bounce around into a new job after, it may not have been possible for her to go, since the student loan debt there - while spread out, sill was a large chunk of change coming out of our pockets each month (until we parted ways). A career in a non-proffit industry does not leave one "rolling in it" even at the masters level. It doesn't mean that a job will be there when you graduate. It doesn't look to see the vast number of underemployed people with similar credentials.

Also, from having looked at a bunch of programs with her, yeah - top flight schools can have some seriously better conections and internships, and those do matter.

Unfortunately, you need to decide how you will pay for your student loan debt after you graduate. So back to the $54K vs. $50K conundrum, the monthly differential for a top flight school for student loan debt for a starting salaray increase was less than the monthly differential in pay. With that said, career advancement and opportunities provided by the top flight school had better potential at creating a long term income gain.

If you have a bridge or a partner with an income that can defer the difficulties associated with a top flight school, it is a no brainer. If you are on your own, and you can deal with a steady regiment of rice and beans for a few years, the top flight school is probably a better choice. If you have constraints of reality, making a financially good decision and taking a teir 2 school may make the best financial sense in the long run.
posted by Nanukthedog at 12:14 AM on July 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm an MSW. I hire MSWs. I've never known anything about the rankings of social work schools per se, but I do know a good school from a not so good (or bad) one, and I pay attention to that on a resume. I'm not sure what the over/under is for schools that require the GREs, so I'm not sure if you can go to a good school that does not require them. Were I you I would ask around of the social workers you know and ask them about their takes on various schools. It's that set of opinions that will affect your hiring, not specific rankings. Keep in mind that schools are also different based on their specialty. I went to a school in the NE that is purely a clinical program, and a very good one, but I would not necessarily look to hire someone from the school to do policy (or even macro) work, which is kind of ironic since I work a bit more on the policy side now. If you have specific questions feel free to email me.
posted by OmieWise at 5:12 AM on July 9, 2012

My dad got his MSW from Berkeley in 1967. I'm not sure you can get a better pedigree than that. He built his network from the social activism that he did and his internships. He has always been able to get a job, and he has never had a super-high paying job.

My point is, don't go broke paying to go to a "Top Flight" school, you'll never make the money back on it. DO become very active in your community and really work in your internships, these are the connections you'll make that will help you with employment down the line.

My Dad's last job before he retired was working for the Department of Defense in Germany and Japan as a family counselor on military bases. If you can get it, this is the absolute BEST job for a family counselor. Fantastic benefits, great pension and the opportunity to do interesting and helpful work.

You're doing God's work as a social worker, but don't buy into the prestige nonsense. Pay what you can afford and learn as much as you can doing the actual work.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:14 AM on July 9, 2012

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